Czech-German relations under strain

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This week the "war of words" between the Czech Republic and Austria unexpectedly spilled over into neighbouring Germany as well. After exchanging insults with Austria's extreme right politician Joerg Haider, whom he called a "post-fascist", the Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman suddenly fired into the ranks of the Sudeten Germans, ethnic Germans who were expelled en masse from Czechoslovakia after World War Two. In an interview for the Austrian magazine PROFIL, the Czech Prime Minister called Sudeten Germans "traitors" and added that one must not forget that they were a fifth column for Hitler. The remarks drew rage from political conservatives and Sudeten Germans in Germany who demand either a formal retraction or an apology. In recent years tensions over the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans have calmed, so many observers are wondering whether the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic could not be behind Mr Zeman's latest outburst, a question that Radio Prague's Daniela Lazarova put to Petr Brod from the Czech section of the BBC.

Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, photo: CTK
"It may be the case because Zeman obviously speaks for a considerable part of the population. He expresses opinions that have been held over decades by many Czech politicians -not only the communists for example - and he is very close to the communist view of Czech and Czechoslovak history on this account. He expresses views that were expressed immediately after the war by most Czech political parties and when you listen to radio phone-ins for example or see reactions in the Czech press these days you will notice that a lot of people support Zeman's position so there may be this move on his part to garner support from people who might not normally vote for the Social Democrats in the upcoming elections because he presents himself as a defender of Czech national interests. "

How badly has this damaged Czech-German relations? There has been media speculation that Chancellor Schroeder's planned visit to the Czech Republic in March might be cancelled...